Friday, May 02, 2008

Not A Legal Divorce

In his April 29, 2008 press conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Barack Obama responded to Reverend Jeremiah Wright's appearance at the National Press Club by noting:

Yesterday we saw a very different vision of America. I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday. You know, I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992. I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.

This apparently led Chris Matthews, who clearly prefers Obama to Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee, to ask NBC Political Director Chuck Todd that afernoon on "Hardball" "he forced him to divorce him, didn't he?" Matthews a moment later commented "he is completely cutting off personally this man who‘s caused him so much trouble, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright."

Three days later, conservative syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, in a piece harshly critical of the Illinois senator, wrote "apparently, Wright's latest comments -- Obama cited three in particular -- were so shockingly "divisive and destructive" that he had to renounce the man, not just the words."

But did Senator Obama really "renounce" or "divorce" his former pastor? Definitions of almost all words differ, but in what appears to be the most relevant one of "renounce," defines the word as "to cast off or disown; refuse further association with; repudiate to renounce a son."

Obama did comment "based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either," "well, look, as I said before, the person I saw yesterday was not the person that I had come to know over 20 years" and "I do not see that relationship being the same after this."

But throughout the press conference Obama emphasized disagreement with Wright's ideas. Here are two examples:

His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church. They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs.

I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I’m about and who I am. And anybody who has worked with me, who knows my life, who has read my books, who has seen what this campaign's about, I think will understand that it is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country.

He finds "these comments," not Reverend Wright, "completely opposed" to his aims. The person he "saw yesterday" may not be the real Jeremiah Wright, Obama implies. Not convinced? Obama concluded by lamenting "and so, you know, I'm disappointed. All right? thank you, guys." Disappointed- because he expected so much better from a man he deeply respected (and, I think, otherwise still does) and whose words so contrast with the man he has known.

Splitting hairs? I don't think so. At Obama's heralded speech on race/Wright in Philadelphia, the Senator had declared " I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community." Disowning, divorcing or repudiating Wright, then, would be tantamount to divorcing the black community. Further, at his 4/29/08 press conference, Obama spoke in a measured way cognizant of the possibility that the minister whom the nation has seen too much of already may come back, either to hurt the campaign or simply in disregard of whatever impact he might have on it. That is why Obama, wisely, (again) denounced absurd comments yet not the man. After all, "the person I saw yesterday" may return.

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